Zach Fleming


The most significant event of Ty and Ian’s young lives occurred on a Friday evening in Ian’s backyard when they were both ten years old.  The boys were deeply engrossed in playing “war,” loosely based on Ty’s grandfather’s reminiscences about his time in the Pacific Theatre.  The two friends had just captured a Japanese forward command post (an old 1957 Plymouth Belvedere that had been in the yard when Ty’s family had moved in before he was born) and from here they planned on taking the bomb factory (an abandoned Ford assembly plant that was across the alley from the backyard) before fighting their way back to Allied command (the living room—Dukes of Hazard started at 8:00 and neither would let anything stand in their way of watching the latest Duke boys’ exploits).  They expected heavy resistance, and as they made their final preparations for their assault, they gripped their British manufactured Sten 9mm submachine guns tightly.

        The boys could hear the faint sound of footsteps and low muffled voices beyond the crumbling cinderblock wall that was the final obstacle between them and their goal.  Ty slid down a little further into the driver’s seat of the Plymouth and made a series of hand signals to Ian; he nodded gravely and slid noiselessly out the passenger side of the vehicle onto his belly.  Putting the length of lead pipe before him, he began a forward crawl over the wreckage of the yard toward the wall while Ty covered him from his position with the stick he had at the ready to dispatch any foes that might impede the captain’s progress. 

        Once Ian had taken his place, his back against the wall, lead pipe to his shoulder and at the ready, eyes scanning the yard for any signs of enemy movement, Ty exited the Plymouth where a driver’s door had once been and ran with his head down to join his commanding officer.  From their position on the wall they could hear the voices more clearly as well as a strange rattle followed by a long hiss, like air being let out of a tire.  Ty’s heart beat rapidly, totally engrossed in the reality of war.  “Can you see them?” he asked Capt. John Lawson, decorated veteran and hero of countless campaigns in Europe and the Pacific.  Ian had poked his head over the wall and had the pipe trained on the enemy soldiers.  “There’s only three,” he replied to his longtime partner and most trusted companion Major Adam King, a grizzled old vet who, in addition to accompanying Capt. Lawson on virtually all his victories, had also distinguished himself in combat during the first World War. 

How many times have we found ourselves in this exact position, Ian wondered.  Behind enemy lines, hopelessly outnumbered, and faced with a mission that would prove impossible for an entire regiment.  Yet, against all odds, the two excelled at finding ways to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat—and almost always narrowly.  These two war-hardened soldiers were well known throughout the armed forces for their ferocity in battle and their flawless service record.

        “Only three?  I thought it would be better guarded than that.  Are they Japs or Krauts?” Ty asked.  The boys’ knowledge of the Axis forces was divided into the two categories that Ty had heard of from his grandfather and from his Russian neighbor, Mr. Groza, who loved the two as if they were his own.  Mr. Groza would frequently sit on his porch getting very drunk and tell the two warmongers about the Battle of Stalingrad, which he had seen when he was about their age, the accounts his uncle had given him of the fighting in Poland, as well as any other war story he had heard while growing up.  The boys would sit and listen for hours, gaining fuel for the further adventures of Captain Lawson and Major King.  Mr. Groza, ever indulgent of the duo, would sometimes send the boys on secret missions to procure supplies (cat food for his old tom, Viktor) deep behind enemy lines (the grocery store two blocks away).   As the boys learned from the older men’s dissertations, “Japs” were fierce, noble warriors bound by honor and duty who would never, under any circumstances, surrender; “Krauts” were cold-blooded murderers who did not differentiate between soldiers and civilians.  

        Ian was silent for a bit, still peeking over the wall with a puzzled look on his face while Ty made a last check of his weapons and ammunition.  He had only a few bullets and two grenades (Mickey’s Big Mouth bottles that they had found in Ty’s trash can—his father’s casualties of another, unrelated battle that had been fought the night before); this was going to be another close one.  “Well, Cap?”

        “They look like…bandits or bank robbers or something,” Ian said.  Curious, Ty poked his head over the wall, careful not to draw any hidden sniper’s attention.  He saw three teenagers, all masked with bandanas and armed with cans of spray paint, making odd pictures on the walls of the assembly plant.  The boys watched the taggers work in rapt silence, slowly forgetting their mission and their impending engagement in Hazard County, Georgia.  “What are they drawing?” Ty asked Ian.

        “It looks like just words but I can’t read it,” Ian replied in a whisper, his brow knit in concentration as if he could will the words to reveal themselves into something recognizable. 

        “Maybe it’s a Kraut code,” Ty said in his gruff Major King voice in an effort to draw Ian back into the war.  Ian quickly shot him a frown to demonstrate that he no longer was interest in the mission and, reddening a little, Ty abandoned his Sten 9mm in order to pull himself up onto the wall for a better vantage point.

        They stayed on the wall, transfixed, for several minutes as the tags quickly took shape; the long, sweeping arcs flowing into others as the teens completed their outlines and then began the filling in process, expertly blending one color into the next.  Both boys realized that they were witnessing something forbidden—their young age meant that the memories of punishment for writing on walls was still vividly etched into their minds—but the grace and skill that the teens demonstrated was what held their attention.  While neither of them had the words for it, they were silently aware that this was an act of both defiance and beauty; a way of making something ugly like an abandoned factory a work of art.  “The one in the middle says ‘Seen,’ I think,” whispered Ty. 

        “Yeah. What’s that supposed to mean?  I can’t read what the other two say.  That guy’s making a Pac-man, though,” he said pointing to the youth on the right.  “What time is it, Major?” Ian said, falling back into his Captain Lawson voice.

        “Almost zero hour, Cap,” Ty guessed.  “Zero hour” was 8:00—they had to move quickly in order to complete their objective.

        “Give me one of your grenades,” Ian said, sliding down the wall.  Ty complied and handed him over a Mickey’s bottle.  Ian pulled the imaginary pin and whispered, “We’ll reconvene at command.  Get ready to move, Major.”  He then turned from the wall, backed up a few paces and threw the grenade in the general direction of the teens.  Both the boys were half way across the yard before they heard the bottle break on the wall of the plant.  By the time the shouts and curses reached their ears, they were safely inside Ian’s back porch, staying low so as not to be seen if the teens decide to investigate by looking over the wall.

        The breaking bottle had drawn the attention of Mr. Groza, who staggered tipsily out his back door (his own back porch had fallen off years ago) and began shouting at the teens in a mixture of Russian and highly accented English.  The teens launched some insults and threats at the old man in the language of the city and eventually moved off.  The two boys waited until Mr. Groza went back inside his falling-down house, muttering curses, before standing up giggling.  “Another mission accomplished, Major.  Good work.”

        “Nothing to it, Cap.  Good thing Comrade Groza gave us some cover while we fell back.  Let’s hit the mess hall before we go to command.”


*       *          *


        The next morning the boys examined the tags in closer detail.  The teenagers had left the empty cans of paint where they lay after the assault and Ty and Ian discovered that two of them, one red, one blue, still had some paint in them.  Ian was the first to try it slowly painting his name in stick letters devoid of any sort of style.  He handed the can to Ty but he was afraid his mom would see his name on the wall directly across their backyard.  “So write something else,” Ian reasoned.  Taking the can and shaking it as he had seen the teens the night before, Ty wrote the most vulgar obscenity he could think of—a word he had heard his father utter daily but one that he himself had never said aloud for fear that God, or worse, his mother, might hear him and strike him dead.  Ian collapsed in laughter and upon his recovery the two ran away down the alley, clutching their cans of Krylon as if they were the most precious treasure in the world. 

        Neither of the boys knew it then but that small act of deviance changed them forever.  That simple activity of writing a single word on the wall of an abandoned factory would come to shape them and dictate the course that the rest of their short lives would take.





        Ty left school with his mind focused on the final project of his high school career.  He spent the three-block walk to the train that would take him home with his head down instead of looking at every surface for new tags[1] like normal.  He was only seeing what he needed to negotiate the walk; nothing else registered in his focused mind.  All his thoughts were on writing the paper about the brewing ecological disaster facing the planet in order not to receive an incomplete in Civics that would keep him from graduating. 

        He had read all the sources that he felt he needed to on the subject and had decided to adopt the stance of the source that he intended to quote most, one Jefferson Hoff who had authored the book Our Doomed World.  Hoff was an environmentalist whose view was, as his title would imply, that humans had gone too far in their wasteful ways and had come too far in poisoning the planet for anyone to do anything about it.  Even if the change were to happen overnight, it was already far too late.

        Ty’s intention to agree with this rather bleak assessment was not because he felt strongly about it (he found the author to be a tad on the crazy side; he reminded him of the guy who always wore “The End is Nigh” sandwich board and frequented the lower downtown area) but because it seemed the easiest way to fulfill the requirements of the paper which included a closing argument about how you feel about your topic.  As Ty boarded the train, he decided that he would close his paper with the argument for more post-consumer recycling; this was something Hoff had said should have been implemented fifty years ago. 

        On the train instead of adding to the chaotic collection of illegible pen tags, as was his usual routine, he pulled out his Civics notebook and started to write a hasty outline and a preliminary introduction.  He was so focused on finishing this project and putting high school behind him, he almost missed his stop.  Scrambling to jam his notebook back into his already overfilled backpack, he barely made it through the doors before they closed.  He slammed into a large black man that was talking to someone on the platform.  “Shit, man; sorry,” Ty shot, putting his hand up to touch the man’s arm.  This gesture was one that always accompanied Ty’s apologies, it was an involuntary reaction that Ian had unsuccessfully tried to break him of for years (“People don’t like to be handled,” Ian had explained when they were still boys.  “Someday that’s gonna get you in trouble.”  On more than one occasion, it had, but Ty’s habit still persisted). 

        “Get the fuck up off me, mothafucka!” the giant bellowed as he swatted Ty’s arm away with the back of his huge hand.  Ty backed up swiftly with his hands up in front of him in a placating gesture and turned on his heel as soon as he was clear of this Goliath.  He then picked up his pace and ran, his lanky frame cutting easily through the crowd of people on the platform.  He didn’t have time for this.  He could feel both men’s eyes burning holes into the back of his skull while he threaded through the throng, slinging his backpack up to his shoulders.  For the rest of the distance Ty forgot his paper and instead contemplated the deteriorating state of the city and its residents’ intolerance of each other. 

Ty covered the last few blocks to his house in a light jog. He cut down the alley, through his backyard and exploded into the kitchen.  He began to unpack his bag, laying out the books in the order he intended to cite them, and then went into the bathroom, desperate to relieve his straining bladder.  His thoughts alternated between what he needed to say in his paper and the vague hunger he just now realized he was feeling.  He resolved to get a snack and then get to work.  He exited the bathroom, returned to the kitchen, sat down at the table and immediately started to write without ever getting the food that his body was telling him he needed.  It was just as well because he hadn’t washed his hands.

.          .          .       

Ty stood and stretched not realizing until then that he had just spent the last several hours hunched over his books and papers.  As he crossed the kitchen to turn on the light, he idly wondered where Ian was and if he was coming over tonight. 

Ian had essentially moved into the house at the end of the boy’s junior year.  His mother, Beth, had finally been removed from her house two blocks east after a lengthy eviction process.  Having little money, no family, and little motivation to do anything for the benefit of her or her child, Beth had applied for and received access to project housing in the notorious Westside of Royal Park.  Ian had vehemently refused to accompany her, and Ty’s mother, fearing that Ian would end up homeless, or worse, be forced to live in Royal Park, had offered for him to move in with them. 

Beth didn’t protest.  Her life was spent in a narcotic stupor that had kept her isolated from reality for years.  She had always been an abuser of various substances but it was heroin that eventually received her full endorsement.  Ian had grown up in a frequently empty house and a world of screaming, broken glass, hunger, and uncertainty.  He had learned at a very young age that his mother was no one he could depend on and had set about making himself completely self-sufficient.  By the time he and Ty discovered each other Ian could travel comfortably alone through most of the city. He knew of secret spots that he would eventually share with Ty, could speak a couple of phrases of Spanish and Yiddish that aided his safe passage through New Montvale (commonly referred to as the “Barrio”) and the Old Quarter, respectively, as well as half a dozen places where a young boy could spend the day by himself without attracting too much attention or answering awkward questions.  Of all the places Ian knew, the library downtown was his favorite.  If his time wandering the streets alone had given him an education into the way the city functioned and how to conduct himself, then the library was his introduction to a much more traditional type of education that he embarked upon of his own initiative long before he ever attended school.  It was here he taught himself to read (aided by sitting in unnoticed on some of the daycare sessions that covered the fundamentals of the alphabet and the sounds they made) and from those days forward he was never seen without a book somewhere on his person.

School was never a problem for Ian.  He had distinguished himself as a gifted student immediately upon his entry.  His pace never slowed and he coasted through all the honors courses, which earned him several scholarships.  Just a week ago, he had received a letter informing him that he had been accepted to The Art Institute of Pittsburgh based on the portfolio his art teacher had helped him assemble.  It was Ian’s dream to get out of this city that held no future, even if it meant going to another whose future was nearly as bleak.  Ian was ecstatic about this opportunity and had encouraged Ty to come with him.  Ty, who also did well in school (although nowhere near the top of their class like Ian), had not given much thought to what he would do after graduation.  The money was not there for him to attend college, and though he desperately wanted to leave the dying city too, he could not help but feel that he would be abandoning his mother who had devoted her life to his comfort. 

Ty grabbed his paper from where it lay on the scratched fifties style table and walked across the kitchen to the refrigerator.  He read over what he had written while he rummaged around for something to kill the ravenous hunger that he had successfully ignored in his frenzy of writing.  It definitely wasn’t his best work but it was good enough; he reckoned that it would be one of the better papers that Mr. Schmidt would read from that class.  Ty normally didn’t put off his assignments like this but the mild spring was too much of a temptation; he and Ian had gone out bombing[2] regularly and Ty’s schoolwork had taken a backseat to his desire to get up[3] all over the city.  They had spent the long winter sketching new burners[4] and both of them were anxious to perfect the styles that they had developed.  

Ty was removing some leftover spaghetti from the night before when he heard Ian come in the front.  “Hey,” he half yelled with his head still in the fridge, “where you been?”  Ian walked into the kitchen without his customary lopsided grin and threw his bag on the still warm chair that Ty had vacated.  Ian was shorter than Ty with a more athletic build, but he normally carried himself like one who was much bigger.  Now he was half stooped like he had received a blow to the mid section and had a frown that looked out of place.  Ty waited for him to say something while he busied himself making them something to eat.  Ian was determined to make him wait, apparently, because he sat down at the table and stared vacantly toward the back door like he didn’t know where he was.

This aloofness startled Ty and he stopped what he was doing, “Hey, what’s up?  You alright?”

“I went to see my moms today,” Ian began flatly.  Ty immediately understood. Ian’s visits to Beth’s were infrequent and always disappointing.  He waited patiently for his friend to elaborate.  Ty did not want him to feel like he had to say what he already knew, that his mother had been wasted and unresponsive or strung out and desperate for money to score again. 

“I wanted to tell her when graduation was and that I had gotten accepted so I went there after work.”  Ian was employed after school at Abraham’s, an antiquarian bookstore on the edge of the Old Quarter.  “She was so wrecked that it took her a while for her to even notice that I had come in.  You should see that place, man, what a shithole.  It’s amazing that people actually live there.  Once she recognized me, I told her about everything but she was too gowed[5] to know what I was saying.  I got pissed and left her mumbling something that I couldn’t make out… There was shit on the floor, Ty.  Human shit, right there in her living room.  I almost stepped in it on my way out.  Man, I can’t wait to get out of this place,” he added, almost to himself. 

As always, Ty felt a small panic start at the mention of Ian’s departure.  He could not imagine life without him; they were like brothers but ones who liked each other.  Ty moved to his friend and touched his arm barely saying, “I’m sorry, Ian.” 

Ian looked to where Ty’s hand rested on his bicep, between his shoulder and elbow, and gazed up at his friend with the trace of a grin.  “How many times have I told you about that,” he said laughing a little.  Ty jerked his hand back and said automatically, “Sorry,” and reached out to touch the same spot again before realizing what he was doing.  Both of them started to laugh as Ty returned his arm to his side.  “Someday, that action is gonna get your ass stomped,” Ian said still chuckling and shaking his head. 

“Yeah, that day was almost today,” he responded, launching into the story of his near beat-down on the platform.

The two busied themselves making dinner and the wave of uncharacteristic melancholy seemed to leave Ian.  After they had eaten, however, he was silent and preoccupied.  Ty left him alone to his thoughts because he could think of nothing to say and started to do the dishes.  Eventually, Ian got up from the table, grabbed a dishtowel from the handle of the stove and started drying and putting away the dishes. 

“Where’s Mia tonight?” Ian inquired. 

“Moms is working a double shift at the hospital and won’t be home until six tomorrow morning.”

“Good.  Then she won’t miss us this evening and we’ll have plenty of time to make breakfast for her before she gets home,” Ian said casually. 

“Where are we going?” Ty returned.

“Bombing, son.  It’s gorgeous out tonight.  Plus, I saw this place that’s nice and quiet where we can throw up some burners and not feel rushed.  It’s that old mill over by where the river splits in Royal.  No one goes down there.”

“I’m not going bombing, I’ve got to do the school thing tomorrow and type out this paper or I won’t graduate.  It was due today but I used my awesome powers of persuasion to convince Mr. Schmidt that I needed an extension in order to meet my high standards of excellence,” Ty explained, imitating the manner of speech he had employed when asking Carl Schmidt to let him slide.

“Huh.  Schmidt is a soft touch and an idiot, apparently.  Why didn’t he give you ‘till Monday?  Didn’t he expect you to show the last day of your senior year?” Ian asked innocently with a serious expression on his face.  Ty burst out laughing at this; neither of them had any intention of showing up on Monday since it was just a make up day from the brutal winter that had ravaged the area and none of the teachers had anything planned other than movies or “free time.”  Everyone expected the school to be virtually empty except for those unfortunate enough to have too many unexcused absences to go unnoticed.

“I can’t go.  I’ve got to get this done.” Ty was determined not to give in tonight.  He had already procrastinated enough on this assignment; bombing the night away, as alluring as it sounded, was out of the question.  Besides, he thought, after I turn this in we can bomb every night.  “Tomorrow, for sure,” he said diplomatically.

“Man, I’ve seen you type, you’re slow.  You won’t even be finished with that thing by tomorrow night.”  Ty was about to respond when Ian held up his hand to stop him and said, “Look.  We go out tonight and I’ll type Schmidt’s paper in the morning.  I’ve got to work at noon and if I’m at school, I’m more than half way there.”  Ty didn’t respond and his friend knew him well enough to know he had already won.  “Come on, man.  Are you telling me that you’d rather waste your time sleeping than piecing?  Put up that one that you’ve been working on in your book.  That shit is legend.” 

“Where is this place again?” Ty responded, after a couple of seconds pause, watching the soapy water spiral down the drain.       


The former steel mill that Ian led Ty to through the labyrinth of the ghetto was like most of the buildings in Royal Park, in desperate need of being bulldozed before it fell in upon itself.  The mill had been abandoned sometime in the mid seventies when the steel market in this region had collapsed and had stood these years as a monument to the city’s decline.  It was poised at a branch in the river that surrounded Royal Park, serving as a natural barrier that suited both the residents of the neighboring boroughs and the city officials well; the intention had been to keep the residents of Royal Park, which even in the city’s more prosperous days had been the poorest area, somewhat contained. 

The first thing Ty noticed about the area was the fetid smell that came off of the slimy, poisonous river, brought to them by a light wind from the east.  The smell had grown stronger, almost overpowering, as the two drew closer.  “Jesus, Ian, it reeks over here,” he volunteered. 

Ian gave a brief laugh and just kept walking toward the towering ziggurat that rose higher than any building for blocks.  The area was completely deserted; they had not seen a single individual since they had climbed the fence that designated the mill’s boundaries.  Even for a wasteland such as this Ty found it odd that no one was here.  This type of secluded area was usually a hub of shady activity, especially at this late hour, but no one appeared to be around.  The two had no way of knowing, though they would soon find out, that the city’s most powerful and untouchable gang leaders had recently claimed this area for their own purposes. 

As the two reached the main building of the mill, Ian turned to Ty and said, “What do you think?  Virgin territory.”  It had not escaped Ty’s notice that there were no signs of any recent writer[6] activity on any of the buildings.  He had recognized none of the names of the few pieces[7] that he had seen and he figured that they must have belonged to writers long before their time.  The style of the pieces was an indication as well; the burners looked like cave paintings in comparison to what even toys[8] threw up these days.  “I think it stinks here.  And why doesn’t anybody get up here?  I know, like, a dozen writers from The Park,” he said while looking around, feeling uncomfortable and exposed in this foreign neighborhood.

“Krylon says it smells too bad for him to make it down here.  Plus, he said it’s no good because nobody ever sees your piece.”  Ty chuckled a little.  He viewed Krylon, named because of his deluded devotion to inferior paint, as a nice guy but kind of dim. 

“Heh.  Krylon.  He’s finally right about something.  Damn, that stink!”  He and Ian had long since stopped caring who saw their pieces, however.  Their initial interest in graffiti had been a way to combat the anonymity of the city, to stand out in some way and distinguish themselves, to become Kings[9], to flaunt their style.  That notion had waned as the boys grew older and matured.  They no longer cared who saw their pieces now and did it solely for the enjoyment and the art of it.  The adrenaline rush that went hand in hand with trespassing and risking their lives to get up on increasingly dangerous places was just an added bonus to what they viewed as a reasonable hobby that had gradually turned into an obsession, and then into a lifestyle.  Bombing had been their chief interest from adolescence on; it took precedence over girls, getting loaded, cars, and anything else that the average teenage male usually dwelt upon.  None of those things really interested them or if it did, the interest was fleeting. Bombing was life.                  

Ian walked over to a ladder that ran three stories up the exterior of the corrugated steel building that had been the warehouse of the mill.  Without a word, he started up, his messenger bag swinging, knocking his cans of Rust-oleum together.  Ty hesitated and yelled to Ian over the wind and distance, “Are you sure it’s safe?”

Ian paused and turned to look at him still on the ground.  “I’m pretty sure it’s not,” he said casually and continued his ascent.  Ty took a deep breath and started up after him, glad that he had chosen the more practical backpack that would not impede his progress nearly as much as a messenger bag. 

The climb went on endlessly.  By the time Ty reached the top of the flat roofed foundry, his hands were raw from the rusty rungs of the ladder.  Ian had already unpacked his bag and claimed his spot, a shed-like structure that had housed a stairwell, serving as roof access in the mill’s youth.  The door that protected the interior of the building from the elements had long since fallen off and as Ty gazed through the gap; he saw no stairs, just a three-story drop to the cement floor of the mill’s warehouse.  “Don’t take the stairs,” Ian warned unnecessarily, already beginning the outlines of an ambitious burner that would easily be recognizable from the street. 

Ty wandered off to pick his own spot, preferably somewhere the wind wasn’t blowing the stench of industrial pollution directly into his face, and Ian called over his shoulder, “Watch out for holes.  It’s a bit of a drop.”  Ty stopped and glanced around.  When he resumed his walk, it was with a much more cautious tread. 

The area that Ty claimed was where the mill’s foundry met the warehouse.  The brick building towered another story above him before giving way to huge crumbling smokestacks.  He followed the wall until he turned the corner where the wind wasn’t as strong, and began unpacking his gear.  From here Ty could see all of Royal Park and, across the river, his home of Leatham.  The view was impressive; he had never seen this much of the city at one time before and it didn’t look nearly as appalling here as it did from the street.  Turning his back on Royal Park, and shaking the can of Rust-oleum satin finish white primer, he began the outlines of what would be a huge burner.  The cityscape had inspired him and he felt like he had unlimited time and space to work on the top of the building.  While he began his most ambitious project to date, he hummed Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” to himself.

About an hour later, Ty had nearly finished filling in the letters of the word “Arrow” in a dark blue that faded to purple toward the bottom.  He had been given that name by a twenty-something tagger from the Barrio that everyone had known only as Katsu.  Katsu was one of the boys’ early mentors who had felt sorry for two poor, white kids that everyone had labeled toys when they first showed up to the bench at Emerson Station where all the city’s writers congregated.  He had taken them under his wing and given them outlines to practice with.  He had even gone so far as to arrange to meet them in the train yard, near their houses in Leatham, to help him do a two-car burner.  It was the first of many trips the boys would make to that hallowed writer’s proving ground.    

The rest of the city couldn’t help but notice when, that following Monday, one of the lines rolled out with “At War With Society” emblazoned on the side in bubble letters that went from the bottom of the train to the top.  On the left side of the burner was a caricature of a stereotypical gangbanger, guns blazing and on the other side was a writer, positioned to look like he had just finished that particular piece.  All the writers knew that it was Katsu’s style but they were in awe of the size of it, thinking that he had done it by himself.  Katsu, proud of his two prodigies, quickly proclaimed Ty and Ian’s involvement and the “vicious styles” they possessed.  It was Katsu who dubbed Ty “Arrow” and Ian “Krook.”  The boys’ position was solidified in the writer’s community and their status went from “toys” to “future kings” in the course of one Sunday evening.  Ty was still twelve and Ian had just turned thirteen at the time.

Ty was so engrossed in his piece, which he was steadily becoming happier with, that he didn’t notice a car pull up to the gate of the mill with its lights off.  He also failed to hear two car doors shut about two minutes after the car arrived.  By the time he heard raised voices coming from the direction in which he had left Ian, it was far too late to warn him about anything.      

.          .          .



Officer Thomas Jansen lived a sordid life before being recruited to the police force ten years before.  Jansen had been born and raised in Royal Park and grew up quickly, full of fear and insecurities, on its dangerous streets.  He was the eldest son of the unmarried Keisha Jansen and a large part of the responsibilities of providing for a family of four fell upon him early in life. 

Jansen realized that the only way he would ever amount to anything in Royal Park was either through hard work and dedication or by joining one of the many gangs that the neighborhood had.  Needing the security and safety that his home life could not offer him, the awkward adolescent was more than willing to pledge his allegiance to the 5th Street Kings at age fifteen, one of the stronger gangs in the area.  The character building activity of hard work for minimum wage had never appealed to him and he had seen his own mother struggling to provide for her family by working twelve-hour days and still falling behind.  The life of the hustler seemed far superior to young Jansen, and it was within the 5th Street organization that he found his natural calling as a sadist with a capacity for extreme violence. 

Jansen moved up through the ranks of the Kings at a record pace.  Over the years, Jansen lost any of the fears he had in youth as well as his ability to empathize with other human beings.  He established himself as an integral member of the Kings mainly for his capacity for ruthlessness.  Jansen was the man to use if a message needed to be sent to anyone; whether it was a rival gang, a shopkeeper who refused to pay protection money, or a grandmother who wanted to start a neighborhood watch, Jansen would approach his appointed task with equal parts zeal and efficiency.  For several years, he operated within the organization without the police ever being able to pin any of the numerous crimes he committed to him, until one day in his twentieth year when fate intervened to turn his life completely around.

Jansen, or “T” as he was known in those days, had been involved in a drive-by against a rising New Montville gang that had vague ties to Nuestra Familia, which had gone horribly awry.  On that fateful day, Jansen along with another boy from his street, were the triggermen for this foray.  The driver of the vehicle was a skinny youth of about sixteen that had recently joined the Kings.  He had an extremely nervous disposition and a budding crack problem.  Up until the actual shooting the boy had performed admirably, he had been outwardly calm and uncharacteristically quiet; once the actual firing had started, though, he had panicked. 

T managed to hit two of the vatos, one fatally, before the remaining two returned fire.  It was at this point that the driver lost his nerve and sped away at suicidal speeds down the unfamiliar streets of the Barrio in a desperate attempt to save his own skin.  T was screaming at him from the backseat to slow down which only served to heighten the boy’s anxiety.  Taking a corner at forty-five miles per hour, the driver lost control and slammed head on into a wall, ejecting him from the vehicle and leaving the two shooters unconscious but relatively uninjured.  When Jansen awoke, it was in a hospital room empty except for two members of the city’s finest. 

The police officers were not there to arrest him, however.  They talked to him like they were visiting a sick friend.  Jansen was wary of some kind of trap and kept his mouth shut, determined not to give them any leverage.  He had no particular fear of jail; he was smart enough to realize that the path he had chosen for his life would either land him there or dead and he had accepted these risks long ago.  Eventually the conversation took an unexpected turn when the police asked him if he wanted a job.

 The city’s new mayor had been elected on a platform of getting tough on crime.  Thus far, all of his ideas had failed miserably and he had decided to take more extreme measures.  His new plan was to recruit gang members for the police force.  This later proved to be a disaster as members of his police force were, one after another, pinned with charges that ranged from abuse of power, to murder, to extortion, to rape.  Once word got out of what the mayor had done, he was forced to resign and faced corruption charges of his own.   

But Jansen was one of the few that excelled in his new position.  He had enough intelligence to keep his misdeeds hidden and realized that working on this side of the law offered him many more benefits.  The talents that he had cultivated in the 5th Street Kings served Jansen well in his years on the force and his reputation for brutality grew.  He was known throughout his jurisdiction as one it was best to just surrender to.  Numerous attempts to take his life had failed and the retribution for those actions was so swift and vicious that eventually almost everyone agreed it was far easier to just give him what he wanted and wait for him to make an error that would land him in prison. 

Jansen and his partner, a new kid named Murphy, who he was initiating into the ways in which the Royal Park police force worked, pulled into the abandoned mill to snort cocaine they had recently obtained from a hustler they had picked up several blocks away.  Despite himself, Jansen was actually starting to like this white boy who knew how to keep his mouth shut and only saw what he needed to.  They had been working together for the past two weeks and, although it was early, Jansen believed he had found someone who he could be comfortably partnered with.  None of the beatings, grafts, or general harassment that they had committed during those two weeks had seemed to faze Murphy.  Plus, he was quiet and let Jansen do most of the talking, which he liked just fine.

Jansen brought the car to stop right outside the warehouse while Murphy produced the wrap that contained the coke and began lining it up on a pornographic magazine they had in the cruiser.  He offered up the lines to Jansen first with the attitude of a priest giving sacrifice to his god.  Jansen liked this too; this boy knew the hierarchy and his place in it.  He gave him a smile as he took the magazine and inhaled two fat lines of high grade Bolivian cocaine before handing it back to his partner.  Throwing his head back onto the seat rest of the Crown Victoria cruiser, Jansen yelled out, “God damn!” as the coke took affect.  Murphy, with his typical understatement simply said, “Wow.  Not bad.” 

The two sat in silence for a bit, and looked out over the ruin of the mill toward the river while the drug washed over them in waves of increasing intensity.  Jansen suddenly sat bolt upright, turned to his partner and said with an unexpected girlish giggle, “That is the shit, now, Murph.  I gotta  piss.”  Murphy nodded at him.  Jansen smiled at Murphy’s wide eyed stare.   He was gritting his teeth together so hard that Jansen wondered if they would crack.  Jansen opened the car door laughing at his partner’s inexperience with the uncut coke he was used to and stepped out to relieve himself in the shadows near the warehouse.  He had been coming to this secluded location for a little while now when he needed what he called “me time.”  Since Jansen’s take over, the mill had earned a reputation as a place to be avoided during the night lest one run into him—something that no one wanted.

As Jansen was buttoning his fly, he heard a faint hissing noise that he at first attributed to the cocaine.  Man that stuff got all over me, he thought as he headed back toward his cruiser.  He was just about to open the door when he heard the unmistakable sound of a spray paint can being shaken.  As he opened the door to grab his partner he thought to himself that this night might get interesting after all.

.          .          .       

Ty watched helplessly as the two cops moved in on Ian.  He recognized the bigger one as Jansen.  Everyone knew Jansen.  He was one of the reasons that Ty and Ian had gotten up less in Royal Park then in any other area of the city.  Ty could not hear what they were saying from this distance but he knew from the attitude of the cops that things were not going to go well.  The chance that Jansen and his partner would simply run Ian in on vandalism charges was slim.  Jansen did not work that way, preferring instead to deliver his own method of punishment, which all those on the opposite side of the law had either experienced or heard of, rather than tying up the court system with petty crimes. 

So far Jansen had kept back, pacing near the ladder, the only way off the roof, while his partner first screamed at Ian and then made threatening gestures with his drawn nightstick.  Ty could tell that something about this was not right but he couldn’t tell if they were high or rabid.  The white cop was unusually aggressive even for a Royal Park cop.  Their posture and lack of focus in any direction other than Ian’s showed Ty that they thought they were alone.  Ty knew he should be trying to find his own way of escape—the unwritten rule of writing was every man for himself once the police became involved—but he couldn’t take his eyes off the scene unfolding before him.  Fear for his best friend’s safety filled his soul and it was as if all the joints in his body refused to surrender to the instinctual flight signal that his brain was sending him.  He could no more run than he could turn away from the scene unfolding before him.

        Ian had spoken calmly to the two cops and had kept his hands in sight during the entire exchange but it did not have the desired effect; the more soothingly he spoke the more of a frenzy he provoked in the white cop whom Ty had never seen.  Ian was in the middle of responding to something Jansen had asked him when, without any warning, the white cop lunged forward and struck him in the left knee with his nightstick.  Jansen laughed loudly while the other officer rained blows down on Ian with all his force.  Jansen then stepped forward and put a hand on his partners shoulder saying something in a low tone as the white cop staggered back out of breath.  Jansen got low on one knee and then said something to Ian in the same voice he used on his partner.  Through the pain and broken teeth, Ty heard Ian laugh a little before saying flatly, “Fuck you, Jansen.”

        Officer Thomas Jansen sighed and stood up.  He turned his back on Ian and looked out over the city as if he was offended by this boy’s lack of courtesy.  Ian had managed to pull himself up into a sitting position with his back against the wall.  While Jansen was lost in thought, Ian cast a glance toward the place where Ty was hidden in the shadows, hugging the wall closely.  Ty felt like his heart was being ripped from his chest as he saw the pain and danger that Ian was in, yet there was nothing he could do.  He felt powerless, alone, and terrified and could only watch as Jansen stepped back over to Ian, grabbed him by his shirt, and pulled him up so they were face to face; an action that left Ian’s feet dangling several inches from the ground.  He then smashed his forehead into Ian’s nose and watched as the boy gasped for breath through the pain and shock of the blow.  Jansen then drew him within an inch of his own face, said a few words through clenched teeth, and absently tossed him over the side of the roof with the manner of a child who has just broken a toy that he never really liked to begin with. 

From where he was hidden, Ty collapsed to his knees.  No tears came but numbness crept into him as he tried to process the image of Ian frozen in the air, his eyes wide with animal terror, his arms pinioning helplessly, before disappearing from his view.  Worse was the sound of the impact that Ian’s body made when it finished its descent.  That noise would haunt him more than else anything in the coming days.  It would return to him unbidden and echo though his skull in an endless loop that very nearly drove him mad.        

Overwhelmed with grief, fear, and rage, Ty lost consciousness.  When he came to, the sun was beginning to rise amidst the smog of the awakening city.  He was completely and utterly alone.



        Ian’s funeral the following Tuesday drew a small turnout of friends, mostly other writers, but no immediate family.  Mia had gone to Beth’s apartment in Royal Park on Sunday morning to inform her of her son’s death only to find the door off the hinges and no signs of occupancy.  None of the neighbors Mia spoke to even knew the woman she was talking about.  Feeling that Ian was more her son than Beth’s anyway, Mia arranged and paid for all of the funeral arrangements. 

        Ty had not eaten or slept since the incident.  He was tortured by guilt at what he had seen and his cowardice in not aiding his friend and the feeling that everything that was good in life had died with Ian.  He had not spoken to anyone since explaining to his mother, through sobs and obscenities, what had happened that night, and he stayed mostly in his room where he could leaf through Ian’s notebook of pieces and the pictures they had taken of burners since developing their interest in graffiti. 

        So it was to Mia’s great surprise when Ty came into the kitchen on Wednesday evening fully dressed and informed her that he was going out for a bit.  “Where?” Mia had asked. 

        “Emerson.  To the bench,” Ty replied.  Ever since graffiti had become the activity of choice for many of the city’s youth, writers had gathered at a bench at Emerson Station several times a week to discuss bombing, show each other pieces they were working on, and to generally just enjoy the camaraderie that shared interests invoked.  The “Writer’s Guild,” as it came to be known, was where Ian and Ty had met most of the people that they considered their friends and where they were treated with the respect that their talent had earned them.  Mia was well aware that her son was a writer of no small reputation in the city and, while she didn’t approve of the activity, she thought that it was better that she knew what he was doing rather than not.  She also knew her son well enough to know that if she had refused to allow him to go, he would simply sneak out and do it anyway.  There were many other activities Ty could have engaged in that were worse and so they had developed an understanding long ago that he could continue as long as he didn’t draw the attention of the police.  This arrangement had been extended to Ian too after he had moved in and the two of them going out together had actually made Mia more comfortable with the boy’s nocturnal escapades.  She recognized that Ian was much more cautious and street wise than her son and felt that the two of them would be in less danger if they were together.  Her attitude had changed after Ian’s death, however, and her blood ran cold at the mention of the bench. 

        “No, Ty.  Don’t,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.  Ty stood before his mother where she was sitting at the table; he was unable to come up with any words that would console her or explain why he felt he had to go.  Mia had quietly started to cry while her son’s cold, dead eyes continued to gaze unseeingly at her.  She reached out to him and grabbed his hand.  He did not return the pressure she applied but just stood there as if waiting for her to finish.  She was extremely worried about his mental state; he had not shown any type of emotion since Saturday morning when he had awakened her with his incoherent yelling.  With some effort, Ty removed his mother’s hand and put his own on her shoulder.  “I’m sorry, mom, but I’m going.  I’ll see you when I get back.”  He then turned and walked through the kitchen and out the back door.  He heard Mia exhale a loud sob before the door shut and cut off her grief.  He didn’t turn around. 

.        .          .

          It was a somber meeting of the Guild that Wednesday night.  Ty sat surrounded by friends who had greeted him warmly but he had said very little.  He had explained the murder briefly to a couple of the writers that had shown up for the funeral and word had traveled fast to all parts of the city.  Most writers who had come this evening considered this a meeting to discuss what should be done to avenge Ian.  Ty wasn’t aware of this plan.  He wasn’t sure why he had bothered to show up and desperately wanted to leave and be alone but couldn’t muster the energy to get up and do so.  He sat watching the trains as they came through the station, occasionally greeting people as they showed up and offered condolences.  Everyone knew that Ty and Ian were like brothers and from his attitude they knew he was taking the loss hard.  Very few of them had the imagination to put themselves in his position, to picture the vision of your best friend being murdered right before your eyes while you watched helplessly.  Those that possessed that ability sat near him in silence, hoping that their presence would help soothe him.

        Everyone solemnly sat talking in low murmurs until Noc and his crew came in.  Noc was a middle class white kid from Leland Heights, the neighborhood west of downtown.  Noc sported a bright pink Mohawk, a loudmouth, and an obnoxious crew of toys.  Their presence at the bench was barely tolerated at the best of times and for Ty, they were more than he could stand today.  Standing up, he turned to Krylon and said, “I’m out.  Take it easy, Kry.”

Krylon looked at him startled and said in his slow, thick voice, “Yeah, Ty.  It was good to see you.  Let’s go out and bomb some night.”  The two slapped hands and as Ty turned to walk away, he came face to face with Noc who had walked directly through the crowd, without greeting anyone, to confront Ty.  “Noc,” Ty said simply and made to walk around him. 

        “Hold up, Arrow,” Noc said loudly.  Ty cringed.  He hated when people called him Arrow.  He was proud of the name he threw up everywhere and had made famous but he hated for it to be used to refer to him in person.  Both he and Ian had made that abundantly clear many times before at the bench but the only one the message was lost on was Noc.  “What happened on Friday?” Noc demanded from him aggressively. 

An eerie silence descended over the platform as the two youths looked at each other hostilely.  Ty refused to break the eye contact and said nothing.  “You know what happened.  Jansen killed him,” a deep voice said from somewhere in the crowd.  At the mention of Jansen’s name, Krylon said, “Motherfucker,” under his breath as if to complete an unfinished sentence.   Noc ignored him and continued to look at Ty as if it was he that had said it and continued, “Where were you?  Why didn’t you do something?” 

It was Krylon who said what everyone was thinking.  “What was he supposed to do?  They’re cops, man.  They would have killed both of them.”  Noc turned on him and fixed him with a glare that Krylon couldn’t return.  He then turned to the rest of the assembled writers and said loudly, “Well, what the hell are we going to do about it?  This is never forgive action.  These pigs have declared war.  It’s time to make them pay.”  Low voices were heard throughout the group while Noc rummaged in his bag and withdrew a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook, a field manual for dissidents first published in 1971 that outlined ways of making various explosives and how to effectively wage warfare on “the system.”  Noc had gotten the book from Ian about a year ago after he had bought it from Hiram, his boss at Abraham’s.  Hiram had sold it to him only after he had received Ian’s solemn vow that he would not try any of the “recipes” in it.  Hiram was convinced that the book had been published by the CIA in order to eliminate potential domestic terrorists by giving instructions on how to make unstable devices that were more likely to blow the would be revolutionary’s faces off then their intended targets.  Hiram had told Ian that the book should only be given to his enemies.  After Ian and Ty had perused the book for a couple weeks, Ian had sold it to Noc at one of the guild meetings. 

“I say we go into the Park precinct and leave them a little gift,” Noc said holding the book up for effect.  Ty rolled his eyes and shook his head.  He couldn’t believe this idiot rich kid who thought it was that easy.  He was surprised when no one else said anything.  Noc took this silence to mean that some of them were behind him and continued.  “We gotta send a message.  Make the pigs pay.  Never fuckin’ forgive action,” he repeated. 

Ty couldn’t take it anymore and all the emotions that he had held back for the past several days came out in white-hot rage.  “Shut up, you fucking toy!  You’re not gonna’ do anything.  Take your bullshit revolution and sell it to the other punk-ass rich kids in the suburbs, motherfucker!”  Tears were streaming down his face.  He wanted to rip this guy apart and throw his worthless carcass on the tracks.  Noc and his crew turned their attention toward him again and advanced.  Ty stood his ground welcoming the confrontation.  He may have been powerless against Jansen but not against this clown.  Although he knew he would get beaten badly once Noc’s friends decided to jump in and stomp him, he wasn’t afraid.  Ty thought that the physical punishment he was about to take would be worth it if he could just shut Noc up.  Permanently, if he could.  

 Krylon unexpectedly took charge.  He abruptly stood up, grabbed Ty by the arm, and quickly walked through the platform, leading him up to the street.  No one made any effort to stop them.  “It’s not right, man.  It’s not right,” Krylon mumbled quietly again and again, like a litany.  Ty wasn’t sure if he was referring to Ian’s death, Noc’s out of order behavior, or something else entirely that only Krylon was aware of; it was hard to know what went on in Krylon’s mind.  On the street Ty shrugged Krylon off and walked away, toward home, crying uncontrollably.  He felt like he was going to vomit and wished that Krylon would have stayed out of it and let him work some of the pain he felt out of his system by inflicting it on one who deeply deserved it.  He heard Krylon shout his name behind him but he didn’t stop.  He wandered the streets for about an hour before calming himself down enough to go home—he didn’t want to upset his mother any more than he already had.  During his walk, Ty came up with his own plan for revenge.  It struck him with some irony that an idiot like Noc had given him the idea. 

.          .          .

The following Friday, Ty waited until he was sure Mia was asleep before creeping downstairs.  There was no need to tell her of his plans for the evening as he normally did.  It would only upset her and the last thing he wanted was a bout of tearful pleas.  He was halfway through the open door when it occurred to him that he should leave a note to her on the off chance that she would awaken and find him gone.  As he stood in the doorway, feeling the night’s cool breeze blowing over his exposed arms, he contemplated the dangers inherent in what he had planned; there was a decent chance that he wouldn’t come back.  Tearing off a sheet of paper from Ian’s notebook that he had in his bag, along with his paint, he wrote a note in his small, ordered handwriting.  Mom, Bombing.  Be home soon.  I love you.

He stood up from the table and exhaled a heavy sigh.  He looked around the kitchen slowly and absently folded the piece of paper in half.  On the opposite side of the paper was the word Krook.  Ty was startled when he recognized that it was the piece Ian had been working on when he was killed.  He stood up from the table and walked out the door purposefully.  By the time he caught the last train to Royal Park he thought that he had managed to calm himself down enough to complete his goal.

.          .          .

Ty was crouched in an alley that opened up to the back of the fifth precinct building in Royal Park.  This was where Jansen worked. 

He had been watching the back for over an hour and had only seen two people in that time.  Both were uniformed officers who exited out the back together and turned the corner, disappearing out of his sight, talking and laughing.  Ty assumed that this was a shift change.  He estimated the time to be somewhere near two in the morning.

From where he sat amidst the filth and garbage of the city, watching intently for any signs of life from the precinct, he chose his spot on the third floor.  It was between two barred windows where no lights shone.  The space between the windows was only about ten feet, which was less space than he wanted but it was the best place he could find on the wall.  There was a narrow ledge, about a foot wide, that ran all around the third floor.  Ty had worked off of ledges far narrower in the past so he wasn’t too worried about his footing.  The bars on the windows would also be convenient for him to grab while he worked and allow him to lean away from the wall and gain perspective as the piece took shape.  This really is a pretty good spot, Ty thought to himself and grew fidgety, anxious to start.  He then remembered what this building housed and what the repercussions would be if he were caught here and he forced himself to calm down and wait ten more minutes just to be sure that the two officers he had seen were the only ones that were going to exit out the back.      

As he waited, Ty examined the building in more detail, planning, for about the fifth time, how he would get up to the spot he had chosen.  The precinct building was as old and decrepit as all of the other buildings in Royal Park.  While most of the city’s other precincts had been renovated and turned into modern fortresses, complete with security cameras whose unblinking eyes captured everything that occurred on the building’s exterior, and endless series of locked, steel doors, this one had remained untouched since the late sixties when the city had finally updated the plumbing and electrical systems to bring it, more or less, up to code.  Apart from the bars on the windows and chicken wire that reinforced the glass on the doors, the precinct looked just about like any other building in the neighborhood, except that this one was conspicuously absent of graffiti.   

There was a dumpster at the corner of the building directly below a rusted downspout.  He thought that he would climb up the dumpster and ascend the pipe, assuming that it would hold his weight.  It all looked relatively easy and routine.  Unable to wait any longer, Ty left the alley and approached the corner of the building.  As he boosted himself up onto the dumpster, he glanced in it and saw a huge old console television just like the one that had stood in his living room for years.  He smiled as he thought about what Jefferson Hoff, environmental doomsayer, would have to say if he saw this; a large, angry chapter of his book was devoted to the amount of consumer electronics, with all their poisonous components, being deposited into American landfills.  Ty paused on top of the dumpster remembering for the first time that he had never completed Schmidt’s paper.  He shrugged as he started his climb; it didn’t seem important anymore.  The climb was uneventful and he shuffled out onto the ledge to his designated space between the two windows in less than half a minute.        


As soon as Ty began the outline of his piece his mind immediately found peace for the first time since Ian had been killed.  The hiss of the can soothed him and he was able to focus only on what he was doing at the moment.  Writing had always been his escape; when he was deeply engrossed in the task of getting up he found that all of the things that troubled his thoughts at other times were pushed to the back of his mind.  It didn’t matter that he had heard nothing of his father for five years, or that he had no definitive plans for his future, or that his few relationships with girls had ended in disaster and heartbreak.  All of these things took a backseat.  Poised on a narrow ledge three stories above the pavement, with nothing to slow his fall if he lost his footing, Ty entered a trancelike state where the only things that existed for him were the can in his hand and the wall before him. 

Ty and Ian often worked together on larger pieces so it was not that hard for him to imitate Ian’s style flawlessly.  He guessed that very few people would be able to tell that Ian had not done the finished piece, which was exactly what he wanted everyone who saw it to think.  His reasons for taking this unprecedented risk were partly selfish, but also something larger that he couldn’t quite put into words.  He saw his actions as partially motivated by revenge, one that Ian would deeply approve of and much more fitting than Noc’s suburban commando raid; Ian had never been a violent individual and senseless violence that endangered other people disgusted him.  Ty also knew that this was a way to atone for his cowardice for not aiding Ian that fateful Friday night.  He was pretty sure that Ian would have been furious with him if he had tried to intervene but that knowledge had not eased the guilt that he harbored within.  He needed this piece to serve as a memorial to Ian but he also needed to purge his conscience.  He knew that Ian would understand all of these conflicting thoughts without having to have them explained to him.  Ty felt his chest constrict with grief at the thought of Ian and he wondered if he would ever be able to connect with another human being on the same level again. 

This was not the place to dwell on things of that nature.  Gripping the bars to his right with his right hand, he leaned back and continued writing with his left.  To compensate for the small size of the piece, Ty had made it as elaborate as he felt he could without staying too long.  The burner jumped off the wall with some technical 3D effects and had multiple arrows that ran through it and tied it all together.  He had chosen this piece to put up over all the others in Ian’s notebook mainly because it was a good representative of his work and because he had told Ty that it was one he hadn’t painted before because he hadn’t found the “right spot” for it.  This was another of Ian’s peculiarities, most of the city’s other writers put whatever piece wherever they could; for Ian, the piece always had to fit the location.  Ty wasn’t exactly sure what criteria he used to determine this but in his mind, this was the perfect spot for this small burner. 

Ty guessed that he had been on the wall for about a half an hour by the cramps that were starting to develop in his legs.  He felt like he wasn’t finished, that it wasn’t grand enough, but that he would be pushing his luck if he stayed any longer.  Taking a can of black, he wrote R.I.P. in small, style-less letters in the lower right hand corner of the finished product.  No one would be able to see them from the street.

Shuffling to his left along the ledge, Ty was eager to get down into the alley and admire his work for a while before he disappeared into the anonymity of the city again.  The pipe groaned under Ty’s weight but managed to hold him.  He hadn’t noticed it on the way up but the pipe was in bad shape, rusted through in several spots.  Saying a silent prayer to St. Valspar, Ian’s imaginary saint whose influence protected all writers from harm, Ty released his hold on the rusty pipe when he was about two feet above the dumpster. 

The impact that his booted feet made on the partially opened steel lid shifted the console television which prematurely detonated the homemade explosive devise that had been placed at the bottom of the dumpster sometime around 11:30 that evening.  The blast expelled most of the dumpster’s contents straight up and threw Ty high into the air where he landed in the middle of the alley directly in front of the back door of the station. 

The noise from the blast had ruptured his eardrums and the debris had torn open his flesh in numerous spots.  He was sure that he was dead and felt a strange calm come over him.  Noc, he thought.  I guess he was really serious.  He was mildly amused at this fact as he lay on his side, bleeding profusely.  I didn’t think he had it in him.

Ty rolled over onto his back amidst the flaming trash of the alley with tremendous difficulty.  He felt the pain associated with torn and broken limbs for the first time and realized with surprise that he wasn’t dead yet.  He looked up toward the building and thought he saw someone on the ledge he had just left, examining his handiwork.  “Yeah.  Not bad, son,” the figure said looking down at Ty from the lofty height and giving him a lopsided grin before fading into nothing.     

Ty laughed a hoarse, croaking laugh that was abruptly cut short when the flaming remains of the console television landed on his chest and the boy who made the name Arrow famous throughout the city knew no more.

.          .          .

In the chaos of that early morning, Ty’s work on the wall of the Fifth Precinct in Royal Park went unnoticed by police officers and firemen alike.  The city’s writers informed by Krylon all made pilgrimages to see it, however, and the legend grew.  Noc’s bomb had managed to blow the lid off the dumpster and scorch the corner of the brick building but little more.  In the excitement of spotting “Krook” emblazoned defiantly on the third floor, Noc’s ineffectual actions against the police were quickly forgotten although the consequences of those actions were not. 

As he and his cronies made their way through Emerson Park the next week, on their way to the Writer’s Guild, they were stopped by four masked figures that blocked their path.  Turning around to run, Noc saw a dozen more similarly clad figures materialize out of the gloom.  Noc’s fear grew as all of those confronting him stood in silence.  He could see that some of them carried pipes, chains, and other blunt instruments.  He tried to stammer something but was cut off when one of the dark figures stepped forward and said, slowly and thickly, “Never forgive action, Noc,” before all of them advanced upon him and his crew like silent shadows.  No one saw any of them anywhere near Emerson Station or the bench ever again.     

By the end of the week, the city’s graffiti had completely changed as all the writers started to put up the same message.   In every neighborhood of the city, from Leathem to Leland Heights, on every train car, on multiple walls on every block, on abandoned vehicles waiting to be towed, on every park bench, burners and throws appeared proclaiming, “Long Live the Kings.” 

It was years before subsequent generations of writers, those that had never known Ian or Ty nor heard the names Arrow or Krook, or city employees, who neither knew nor cared, had managed to cover them all beneath layers of paint.


[1] An individual piece of graffiti 

[2] Painting graffiti

[3] I.e. to get ones name up

[4] Large, elaborate pieces of graffiti; not to be confused with a “throw” which is a small piece that can be done quickly, often just an outline, and lacks the intricacies of the “burner”

[5] Intoxicated; typically associated with heroin. 

[6] Graffiti artist

[7] Generic term for any work of graffiti; also used as a verb to mean painting graffiti, i.e. “to piece”

[8] “Posers” or unskilled graffiti artists

[9] Term used to designate a master graffiti artist

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